It is important for you to be clear on what you want to learn. This can be very specific or a desire to shadow a role to understand better what it is. There is a lot of flexibility in this program to support your goals.
If you are not sure, skip to here: What do I want to Learn?
Write down what you are hoping to get out of your mentorship or placement.
Determine who you want to talk to. Perhaps you met them at an event, you admire their work, or a friend suggested they may be a good fit.
Do some research to get their contact information. Here are some options:
- Google Search their name/organization
- If they work for an organization, check out the “About Us” or “Staff” pages
- Ask a friend or colleague for their contact information or, better yet, an introduction
Reaching out on social media may not be the best option, ideally, find an email address or have someone make an introduction for you.
Maybe it feels scary to reach out, but it is our experience that people love to know they are admired. We have offered some templates about how to reach out below. Don’t be too formal, let your personality show.
In general, be clear and specific and suggest some times to meet to discuss the opportunity further.
Skip here for suggestions on templates: Sample Initial Email
People are busy and don’t always check their email. Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond right away, or at all.
Feel free to send a follow-up email a week later if you haven’t heard from them. But if they continue to not respond, assume they are busy and move on to the next individual on your list.
Have a conversation with the mentor to make sure it is a match - perhaps an email exchange or a quick 15-minute phone call. Share your learning goals, the times you are available, and any other pertinent information.
Depending on the socio-economic situation of the person you are interested in, you may want to offer them a fee for their time.
It’s helpful to provide a brief background on your background, what is on your mind lately, what you’re looking forward to in the future and what you’re interested in learning. This often provides a solid background for your mentor to know where the conversation can go and opens up a pathway for them to learn about you.
Depending on the nature of the conversation, sometimes you might be looking for a connection and will ask some brief questions to search for common ground.
In a mentorship scenario, having a clear sense of what your personal goals are in terms of learning can also help you to craft the questions that you ask. You can consult What Do I want to Learn? for a framework to develop your goals and reasonable expectations of how you want to accomplish that.
For an hour-long conversation, having 5-7 questions prepared is helpful in shaping the conversation. From these questions, you can ask follow-up questions to learn more information. If you need some ideas for questions, please head to Mentorship Conversation Starters
If there is suggested reading or information that your mentor thinks would be of interest, be sure to follow up on that.
If there are individuals identified by your mentor that would be someone that you could have coffee, be sure to follow up on that and ask for an e-introduction, and follow through on those e-introductions.
Amir is an opera performer who is interested in learning more about development after participating in an indie production. Amir is connecting with the Head of Development at a large arts institution who started off in opera. Amir has done some research on the Head of Development to understand a bit about their background, and has prepared the following questions with the hopes that Amir can learn how to make a transition/gain more skills in fundraising.
- Could you tell me a bit about your experience getting started in fundraising and how you made the transition from opera?
a. Is your transition typical for people who are transitioning into fundraising?
- What is something you recommend to folks starting out in fundraising that you wish you had been told?
a. Could you tell me why?
- What are some areas of development/fundraising that you feel people often don’t think about or don’t consider as part of fundraising? I don’t have a lot of experience in fundraising and my current understanding is based solely on raising funds so would love to know some jumping off points.
- I understand that a lot of development is around relationship building. Could you speak to how these relationships are cultivated and how you’ve learned to approach those relationships?
- Are there any other people that you would recommend I could speak to?
At the end of your conversation, thanking your mentor for their time is always great, both in the moment and a day or two later via email. If there are any action items from the conversation, it’s a good idea to follow up on them.
Before approaching a potential mentor, spend some time becoming clear on what you want to learn and setting goals.
Below are some questions and frameworks to support you in thinking through what you want to gain skills and insights on.
Consider where you feel you have room to grow your skill set. If you are unsure, here are some ideas:
- Consider someone whose career you admire. What do you see them doing that you wouldn’t know how to do?
- Search for jobs in the sector you are looking to work in. Find job postings that excite you - what are the qualifications you would need more confidence in before you applied?
- Ask trusted friends and colleagues where they see your learning opportunities.
Once you have a sense of what you would like to learn, the next thing to consider is how you will learn it. This is turning the idea into a goal. There are many models for determining what your goals will be. We offer these two:
A SMART goal encompasses each of these elements:
Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
Achievable (agreed, attainable).
Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
Example: I will learn how to do a cash flow analysis for a digital production by meeting with Jane Dow two times between January 28 and February 19. I will develop the template I will use for my next production in this time.
Ask Question: If I knew I couldn’t fail, and I could only succeed, what would I do?
- State your outcome positively
- Know what you want, not what you don’t want
- Be as specific as possible
- Ensure that you can see, hear, feel, etc. the outcome. It should be behavioral and/or tangible.
- Have an evidence procedure.
- You need to have a way to let yourself know when to reward yourself
- Be at cause
- Your outcome must be initiated and maintained by you
- Verify that the outcome is ecologically sound and desirable
- Know when and where you want it as well as when and where you don’t want it. You want your outcome to benefit both yourself and other people. Consider what consequences your outcome will have for you.
- What do you want?
- How will you know you have it?
- When and where do you want it?
- What will happen when you have it?
- What will happen if you don’t have it?
- What won’t happen when you have it?
- What won’t happen if you don’t have it?
- What resources do you have available to achieve this outcome?
- What are you going to do to begin now to get what you want?
Example: I will have the confidence to apply for stage manager positions because I have shadowed Jane for the rehearsal of Madame Butterfly. After that process, I will know what I need to document, how to liaise with the director, and how to advocate for performer safety. I will feel empowered to share my ideas, my shoulders are back and my breathing is calm.
- Influenced by the work of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)
Now that you know what you want to learn and what your goals are, put clear plans in place:
|Planned activities and evaluation||Expectations|
|What are you going to learn?(Objectives)||Itemize what you want to be able to do or know once completed.|
|How are you going to learn it?(Resources and Strategies)||What do you have to do to meet each of the defined objectives?|
|What is the target date for completion||When do you plan to complete each task?|
|How are you going to know that you learned it?(Evidence)||What is the specific task that you will complete to demonstrate learning?|
|How are you going to prove that you learned it?(Verification)||Who will receive the product of your learning and how will they evaluate it?|
|Mentor/Individual/Host Organization feedback(Evaluation)||How well was the task completed? Provide an assessment decision.|
Here are some suggestions of questions to ask during a mentorships session. If you are unsure of where to start, pick a random question as a conversation starter.
- What was your favourite art work/TV show/album/performance you’ve seen recently? Why?
- What are your passions outside of your career?
- What do you love most about your job?
- What skills do you think are essential for someone wanting to have a career like yours?
- What are you most proud of in your career so far?
- How does resilience show up for you in your work?
- If you could talk to yourself when you were at my career stage, what advice would you have?
- What has been on your mind from something you’ve heard at the conference?
- What would you do differently if you organized this conference?
- What’s your favorite cultural event to attend? Why?
- How have you managed conflict when it comes to equity-seeking concerns between people?
- (Insert a common feeling you have professionally) Have you ever felt this way and what steps did you take to help you reframe this thinking?
- How have you handled rejection during your career?
- How do you foster resilience in yourself? In your community?
- What are your tips for meeting people at a conference like this?
- Which skills do people overemphasize in our sector?
- How have you navigated micro-agressions or outright discrimination when it comes up professionally?
- What do you wish people approaching you for mentorship would ask you? What are your most pressing questions for a mentor?
- What was a turning point in your career?
- Who are your role models for your career?
- What has it been like to be a person in your organization with the identities you hold?
- What made you decide to be a mentor?
- How do you manage conflict? With a boss? Peer? Someone who reports to you?
- Sometimes I feel like I am dealing with imposter syndrome, but don’t know what to do. How have you managed imposter syndrome in your life?
- Who has mentored you? And what impact has that had on you?
- What trend is happening that really interests you?
- How can I manage wanting to do my best work and also have boundaries in the workplace? How do I develop boundaries?
- What is it like to work with your organization?
- What is your management style?
- What was the biggest lesson you learned early in your career?
- What are some mistakes that you made during your early in your career and what did you learn from them?
- How do you go about building/maintaining your network?
- If time and money did not matter, how would you spend your time and money?
- What was a key lesson you learned early on as a young professional?
- What sort of things could I be doing now to prepare myself for a career like yours?
- What personal or professional (hard and/or soft) skills are necessary for a career like yours? And what experiences might help me do that?
- What skill(s) are you working on learning right now?
- How are you planning for succession?
- What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?
- What’s the worst career advice you’ve been given?
- What is one thing you would change in the last show you saw?
- How has the industry changed during your career?
- What’s the best work environment you’ve been in?
- What challenges do you see in the our industry and what are some solutions that you think could use?
- How have you managed transitions in your career? What has surprised you on that pathway?
- How has work-life balance shown up for you in your work? What changes would you like to see implemented to better working conditions?
- Do you mind sharing a bit about your career path?
- What is something a mentor has shared with you that you remember and want to share with us?
- How do you cope with rejection?
- How do you budget for variable income?
- How have you created opportunities for yourself?
- How do you supplement your artist income?
- What do you wish artists did together more often?
- What are you grateful for in your career so far?
- I am really good at _ (resources, skills, or knowledge) and I would love to share that more with my peers.
- I need more help with _.
Here’s a sample of how to structure an email to reach out to people you don’t have a relationship with. Please make this your own and add your own flare.
I’m writing to ask if you would be willing to support my learning through a mentorship
I am reaching out to you because (tell them why)
I am looking for support with (insert learning goal(s)
Here’s a little bit about me:
- Tell them about who you are and your practice
- Past relevant work experiences or other experiences that may be relevant
- Link to website if you have one
Talk about your availability and when you would like to work with them.
I’d love to have a phone call/coffee with you. Here are some times I’m available in the next little while:
- Date, Time
- Date, Time
- Date, Time
I look forward to hearing from you, - Your name-